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Soap or Spice: Why Cilantro has Such a Contentious Reputation

Before coming to Boston College, I had never eaten a meal with cilantro in it. My mother had deemed it a public enemy in our house, especially because it resembles parsley so closely. When I got to college, however, cilantro was beyond ubiquitous, and I learned the hard way that I shared my mother’s disapproval of the spice.

When I called my family after the second week of freshman year, I told them all about my encounters with cilantro. While my mother cringed at the thought, my father and sister admitted that they did not mind cilantro in their meals. This made me wonder, why did my mother and I detest the spice, but my father and sister would eat it without a problem?

After a bit of boredom Googling and curiosity, I found out something rather interesting: there is supporting evidence that we are predisposed to either liking or hating cilantro.

The correlation lies in your genes. The nauseating smell and taste of cilantro that some have surprisingly come to love comes from chemicals called aldehydes. Those who have a super-receptive sense for aldehydes think it adds a lot to their plates. Because so many other “unlucky” people and I are less sensitive to these chemicals, we are unable to experience the “citrusy goodness” that it supposedly contains.

On top of that, in studies with identical twins, the siblings most often answered the same way their twin did after tasting cilantro and other spices.  At least you know it is not entirely your fault for having an aversion to cilantro; your parents might just be the culprits!

What I learned from being an avid dining hall patron is that you cannot let nature hold you back from the delicious meals that your friends brag about on campus. Introducing small amounts of cilantro or other spices to foods that you know you absolutely love can act as “the spoon full of sugar that makes the medicine go down.” Eventually, you might even acquire a taste for the things that you dread.

I can now personally attest to the fact that being able to eat more spices has given my meals a much more promising future. I am now one of those students who brags about eating the cranberry couscous with a dash of olive oil and cilantro!

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Hey I'm Gab Sansaricq, a native New Yorker, a current Boston College Sophomore majoring in Psychology, and an avid proponent of the idea that you can never have too much cheese on your pasta.
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